Well, Alana DeBare’s blog has me remembering.

I grew up in the church.  I was an acolyte, and in the choir, and in the youth group, and on the worship committee, and on (something unique called) the “associate” vestry, and a delegate to diocesan convention …  The list goes on.

But I also left the church.  This happened after diocesan convention.  Where we refused to spend any time looking at women’s ordination and the Vietnam War.  And we parodied each other’s points of view (rather viciously) even as we refused to look at the major issues of our day.  I came back and reported this to my congregation.  And I remember this even as we’ve faced difficult times addressing difficult issues in the Episcopal Church today.  We’ve lost some members.  And it’s been difficult.  But it’s been a real attempt to address (not duck) the difficult issues of our day.  And much of the time we’ve avoided calling each other names.

In truth, that precipitated things for me.  But it was far from the only thing involved.  I was pretty sure I didn’t believe some of the God talk in common usage around me.  I didn’t believe about God or in God the way it seemed I was expected to believe.  I guess I’d have to say that though the idea of God was important to me, and did a lot to shape my life, I didn’t have what I would have considered a personal experience of God.  I took a lot of flack from evangelicals who dismissed my beliefs.  Though I did my best to stand up for my God when a street preacher made a mockery of my faith telling students at U C Irvine that there were the Christians and the pigs, and we were all pigs.  I told him that I considered myself a Christian.  And for the first time in my life, he had made me embarrassed to admit it.

Anyway, at a certain point, I left the Episcopal Church.  I was involved through AFSC in a summer project of peace education and civil disobedience (around the war in Vietnam).  And the only vestige of church contact I had was occassional attendance at a Friends Meeting.  Silent worship made no intellectual demands on me.  The silence nurtured me, even if I was pretty sure I no longer believed in God.  But I didn’t feel like I had to believe in God to be welcome there.  And this was a pretty occassional thing.

I’d been shaped by the church.  I thought the values I’d internalized were good values.  I thought it was worth living as though I believed in God.  But I’m pretty sure I didn’t believe in God any longer.

Really, it was after the summer working for AFSC that I had a revelation.

There was something lacking in my life.  Something that had sustained me was missing.  It was missing in my life.  I couldn’t define it very well.  But it seemed to have something to do with God.

Mind you, God still wasn’t personal for me at that time in my life.  It was more like a force.  And it came to be a way of looking at the world that gave it coherence for me.

I went to seminary because it seemed to me that I needed to learn how to read the Bible.  I needed to learn how the Bible could be a guide for my life — not simply a place I looked for quotations to support what I already believed.

For me, God only became personal while I was attending seminary.  And not, I might add, because of what I was learning at seminary.  But in a time of deep depression, while I was driving away from the seminary, God came to me.  Or so I understand the experience.  Suddenly there were all these people from my life who loved me present in that car with me.  Most of them were not physically anywhere near where I was living.  Some of them I knew were dead.  Some of them I couldn’t even identify.  But these people loved me.  And their love held me up.  And I knew, as I experienced their love, that their love was just a part of how God loved me.  And somehow that God who loved me was Jesus.

Now, I didn’t go looking for God.  Not in a personal sense anyway.  But God found me.  And Jesus lifted me out of my depression.  I’d been trying to do that for myself, with no success.  But it was as though a switch had been turned on.  One minute I was depressed.  The next minute I was, no, not happy, but I was no longer depressed.  And I moved into happiness.

Now this may be a particularly Christian way of finding God.  Our God, after all, in Jesus was born into this world and lived a human life.  But I know that sense of a personal God is present in Buber’s “I and Thou.”  And I rather suspect that hassidic leaders in some way represent and put a face on God for some Jews.  And I know that mystics of many faiths have very personal encounters with the divine, however they language it, in their many varied experiences.

I think I need to be careful here.  I don’t think that my experience of my faith is better than someone else’s experience because I encounter God as a person or because I am a Christian.  A personal God is better for me.  The Christian path is also better for me.  But I have friends on different paths.  And I’m pretty sure my God has children on more paths that I could ever imagine.

Anyway, she got me thinking.